Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Diversity of Iraq as seen on Iraqi TV

I am often surprised at how much people misunderstand about the Middle East. For example, when I mention not all women in the Middle East, not even all Muslim women, wear the scarf or even dress like me, I am always met with shock - if not out-right claims that I am lying.

Despite the Middle East only making up 20% or less of the total 1.6 Billion Muslim population in the world, somehow the Middle East has become the poster child for all things Muslim.

It is a big responsibility with many obstacles. The main obstacles being 1) assumptions made about the Middle East based on generalizations and limited images on television, and 2) misinformation deliberately publicized for various political, religious, and personal agendas.

Muslims, and even others who have traveled to the Middle East, have been trying for years to correct the misinformation through information, statistics, and logic - with very little success.

Today, while watching the New Year's countdown celebrations around the world on an Iraqi television station, it occurred to me that actual pictures, specifically live television programs, might be more effective.

These (approximately 2 minute) videos show the reality of what Iraq looks like and how the Iraqi people are not only celebrating New Year's Eve, but how they dress and look and act - their diversity.

Warning: For most people these images will be quite shocking.

Baghdad Park - getting ready for New Year's Eve celebrations, Part 1

Baghdad Park - getting ready for New Year's Eve celebrations, Part 2

Baghdad Hotel - getting ready for New Year's Eve celebrations

Iraqi Musician & Singer

Iraqi Musician

Dubai New Year's Eve Fireworks, Part 1

Dubai New Year's Eve Fireworks, Part 2

Iraqi TV Music Videos

Baghdad Streets

Tigris River in Baghdad

Baghdad Police on the street, New Year's Eve 2015

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Real Americans Message to Muslim-Americans

Because real Americans understand America was founded on religious freedom and has over 313 religions and denominations in the US alone.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Gifts Soften the Heart

I have been observing some discussions of Muslims on the subject of whether Muslims can give gifts to, or receive gifts from, non-Muslims during the Christmas season.

It was a very disappointing to hear the words coming out of the mouth of Muslims.

Kufar In Islam

First, several Muslims referred to Christians as Kufar.  This demonstrates the extreme ignorance from the beginning. Muslims without knowledge sometimes refer to people who are not Muslims, or even Muslims who are not practicing according to their standards, as Kufar.

This is wrong on so many levels.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Religions as Advil v. Tylenol

When I see people (including Muslims) trying to discredit another religion to "prove" their religion is right, I imagine the subject is Advil v. Tylenol. 

Is one better than the other? It depends on who you ask. 

If Advil works better for you, great! 

If Tylenol works better for you, great! 

You do not have to be wrong for me to be right. 

If you have to discredit someone else's faith to feel better about your own, your current choice of medicine is not working. 

Please take a higher dose of your medicine of choice or consider changing your medicine.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Silver Lining of Hate

Several years ago, before Katrina even, I was on a panel at Arizona State University to discuss racism in the present day United States. After we each made our presentations, we opened it up for questions from the audience.

A woman stood up and said she felt from our presentations that racism in the United States was really bad but she believed it was better than before. She asked whether we believed it was better.

I responded that no, I did not believe it was better, just different.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

There is No Muslim War on Christmas

During the years I worked as a community advocate for Muslim organizations, I often listened to conservative talk radio.  In early 2003, while listening to one of the local hosts, I decided to call in to counter the misinformation being said about Muslims. I did get through. I did counter with facts and statistics. The host disconnected the call and said, on air, that the screener would be fired if I ever got through again.

For the rest of the year, the host attacked me, personally, almost every day. Any commentary against Muslims included my name. [Barry Young, KFYI 550AM, retired]

By December, the hot topic was the War on Christmas – somehow the Muslims were the cause, and I was the poster child for the anti-Christmas movement.

You've been had. There is no Muslim War on Christmas.

Muslims as a whole are not advocating, and have never advocated, against Christmas celebrations. That is not to say a small number of Muslim clerics and government officials have not made exclusive or hateful statements - but then, the same can be said about the rhetoric from some religious leaders and politicians in the United States, past and present.

Muslims may not celebrate Christmas as part of our religion, but that does not mean Muslims are, by definition, opposed to others celebrating it. In fact, some Muslims actually participate in the culture of Christmas themselves.

A few facts about Muslims and Christmas

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Workplace Accommodation

In my younger years I worked in a lot of restaurants.  Never fast food, always sit-down style. In the mid-nineties it was Steak & Ale, a fancy steak restaurant in Little Rock, Arkansas. Always a top choice for romantic dinners and special occasions. The lighting was low and the chairs had high backs, reminiscent of royalty chairs meant to remind us of the Renaissance Era and make us all feel like kings. I worked there for several years as a hostess and office assistant. Our uniforms were khaki knee length skirts, white button-up shirts, a navy blazer, and a red bow-tie.

Another girl worked there as a bar tender.  She had been there for many years, long before I started. She was probably in her late twenties or mid-thirties. About a year after I started, this girl got caught up in a drug bust. She was not involved in drugs herself but her boyfriend, who she did not live with, was evidently a drug dealer.  Unbeknownst to them, he was also well known to the DEA who was watching him closely.  One day the DEA decided to bust him. Unfortunately for her, they decided to do it while she was visiting him between shifts. She got arrested too.  Even though the DEA testified she was not involved, she was sentenced to a few years in Federal Prison (minimum sentencing requirements...whole other story).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Unintended Lesson From Joy Riding

When I was fifteen and living in Arkansas, a friend of mine and I decided to “borrow” her stepfather’s car in the middle of the night and drive around.

I cannot say exactly why we did it. We were basically good kids. She was all about boys and I was all about “being a good friend.” She would come up with ideas, and I would figure out how to make them work.

She wanted to go see her boyfriend in the next town.  We came up with a plan. I would sneak out of my house and walk the couple of miles under cover of darkness to her home. She would pass the keys to the car out of her bedroom window; I would start the car and drive it down the block. If no one woke up, she sneaks out of the house and joins me. If anyone woke up, she would stay innocently in her bed . . . leaving me, alone, to deal with the consequences.

Somehow that part did not sink in for me.

As intelligent as I was, I was a straight “A” student, obviously I was not that smart.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The World Needs You Right Where You Are

I took a semester of classes through Seton Hall Law School on Islamic Finance, Sharia Law, and Comparative Law. Every student expressed a desire to work in international law – specifically international human rights.

I had no such desire.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Be A Voice Not An Echo - This Is Who We Are

After September 11th, the Muslim community was bombarded with media requests and presence. Still few people saw them. 

By 2008, media were only interested after a major event or controversy. We were lucky if we got one media outlet to show up for a press conference or after a press release. 

Muslims have had anti-ISIS, anti-terrorism, and peace rallies across the country. No body knows. The media does not cover it. 

After San Bernardino, crickets. 

Muslims have tried to issue statements and have press conferences. The media rarely shows up anymore. 

The most active local mosque received only 3 media contacts this week, even with the political rhetoric against Muslims. 

The people may want to hear more Muslims speaking out, but the media has zero interest in it - not that previous Muslim's speaking out has made any difference.

We are left with trying to figure out what to do

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Open Letter to Congress from a Muslim Woman

Dear Members of the United States Congress:

My name is Deedra Abboud. I was born in Arkansas and live in Arizona. I am a Muslim, attorney, and wife of a Naturalized citizen originally from Iraq.

I am writing to you not only to express my support for increased national security efforts against Muslims, but also to urge you to move more quickly.

The current rhetoric of Muslim ID badges and internment in case there might be enemies among the 3 million Muslims living in the U.S., followed by piece-meal legislation, such as the Visa Waiver Program Improvement Act of 2015 (H.R. 158), is exhausting.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Abortion. Just a Distraction

Sometimes I have the television playing as I am working. As result, I am going through a lot of movies and television series on Netflix and Amazon.

I just finished four seasons of Boardwalk Empire. Though loosely based on real people, it does not actually reflect true events. Still, the historical backdrop, particularly the first two seasons, was very interesting and enjoyable.

One of the things I noticed was the poetic language. The series shows both the time when our language was elegant and cultured, intelligent banter and social graces, as well as the change to “getting straight to the point” by the younger generations.

The second thing I noticed was an exploration of background social issues: racial, ethnic, and gender struggles.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Muslim Target, Latino Bulls Eye

The rhetoric against Muslims is ramping up again. Trump’s rhetoric, which sounds a lot like praise of Hitler’s policies, has hit levels never seen in United States before – not even after the worst attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor. Some media outlets and politicians are riding Trump’s fumes, even adding to it at times. The silence of the majority of politicians, on both sides of the aisle, has been deafening.

Muslims suffered backlash after September 11th, there is no denying it. Innocent Muslims going about their daily lives were picked on and bullied at work, school, and on the street. Some experienced physical violence. Those mistaken for Muslims suffered too.

The FBI began “voluntary” interviews, which rarely felt voluntary, for Muslims across the country - sometimes for no other reason than having a Muslim sounding name on the U.S. Census records. Records that were “conveniently” turned over to the FBI despite the U.S. Census promising never to do so again after their involvement in the Japanese internment. 

The interviews continue even today - attorneys allowed at FBI agent discretion only, despite, or maybe because, the subject is not yet suspected of anything.

Muslims were even subject to “Special Registration,” where, based only on national origin, our community reported to a government center to give fingerprints and biographical information. Information the government already had from immigration records. 

But it made people feel like the government was “doing something,” so all was acceptable.

Yes the Muslims suffered following the 9/11 attacks – pure guilt by association, regardless of the remoteness of the association.

The rhetoric of fear and blame was sometimes quite ferocious, though nothing like today.

But the real victims of the rhetoric were members of the Latino community.

Arizona Love Revolution

Sunday night I posted a meme on Facebook:

The energies coming to earth are so powerful now that everything not of love is being pushed to the surface for healing.

I liked the thought of it.

The idea that all the hate and anger we are seeing in the world has a purpose and that it will come to an end. An end with more love . . . of healing . . . of love.

Then Monday was a crazy day. Everywhere I went I encountered happy people.

At the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts, the guy at the window seemed so happy to see me as he chatted me up and then wished me a great day.

Lunch at Schlotzky’s was the same. The cashier loved the picture on my credit card (my husband and I), complimented my wardrobe, wished me a wonderful day and happy holidays. People at every single office I visited, and every phone call I had, seemed on top of the world.

And it wasn’t just me.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What I Learned From Romance Novels

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of romance novels. Harlequin was my publisher of choice.

It scared the crap out of my mom. She was so afraid the romance novels would give me an unrealistic expectation about romance - particularly that I would look for knight on a white horse to save me. 

Anyone who has ever read a romance novel should well understand her concern. Romance novels do include a lot of sexist behavior and themes.

But what I got out of the books was a clear understanding about communication and human behavior. I recognized that almost all problems are the result of failures to communicate. None of the characters really talk about the important stuff and everyone is always hiding their feelings or making assumptions - most of it out of fear of getting hurt.

I met my husband at work and we started courting - many Muslims, as do members of other conservative faith traditions, “court” rather than date.

Courtship takes the position that the two people have no physical contact at all (no touching, no hand-holding, no kissing) until marriage. Many in a courtship relationship will only spend time together when family members, preferably parents, are present. In addition, courting couples state up front that their intentions are to see if the other person is a suitable potential marriage partner. Courtship advocates claim that courtship allows for the two people to truly get to know each other in a more platonic setting without the pressures of physical intimacy or emotions clouding their view.

You know, like scenes from Little House on the Prairie - boy and girl sit on the porch or in the living room of the girl's family home.

From the beginning, I made communication priority number one.  Every night I would compile about a hundred questions to ask my husband. Literally.  Every night. We courted for four months. I am sure I made his brain quite tired, but he was a real champ about it.

I asked everything imaginable, from inconsequential (What is your favorite color?) to major life decisions (What would you do if our teenage daughter came home pregnant?). 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

What to do? That is the Conundrum

I have been thinking a lot about what to do as a Muslim since Paris . . . then San Bernardino.  A lot of Muslims have. Across the country Muslims are having discussions. And meetings. And more meetings.

In person and on conference calls. 

Not just Muslim leaders. Not just Muslims who attend Mosques (less than 20%). Every Muslim.

Everyone is scared.

Will there be broad backlash against non-suspecting and innocent Muslims randomly going about their daily lives?

Will Trump’s ideas catch on?
Killing family members of terrorists
Closing all Mosques
Institutionalizing torture
Requiring Muslim IDs or badges
Establishing internment camps for Muslims

What to do?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Surviving in the Present

Today I got in my car to drive somewhere. While I am often on auto-pilot, consumed in my brain while driving to my destination, today I took a moment to remind myself that I needed to be present.

My husband has been out of the country on business since August. We met for a short vacation during November in Malaysia. He returned to his work overseas and I returned to Arizona, mere hours before the Paris attacks.

Political grandstanding followed this as well as media sensationalism that stoked the levels of fear for all susceptible.

Every shooting in the United States that followed, and they have been almost daily, raised the levels of fear of who the next perpetrator or victim might be. Waiting for the next shoe to drop. Hoping it is not a shoe related to you in any way.

Then came San Bernardino.